Friday, August 26, 2016

Testament of Youth

Testament of Youth. Vera Brittain. 1933. 688 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: When the Great War broke out, it came to me not as a superlative tragedy, but as an interruption of the most exasperating kind to my personal plans.

Premise/plot: In 1933, Vera Brittain published her autobiography, Testament of Youth, which covers the years 1900 to 1925. Much of the book focuses directly on the Great War (aka World War I) and its immediate aftermath. During the war, Vera Brittain left her university studies (Somerville College, Oxford) and became a nurse (V.A.D.). She worked as a nurse in England and abroad. (I believe she nursed in France and Malta.) Many of her friends actively served during the war. And those closest to her--including a brother and a fiance--were killed. She wrote honestly and openly about how brutal and devastating the war was, about how the war changed her and there was no going back after peace was declared.

When the book is not discussing the war, it often turns to education, politics, and social issues. Vera Brittain definitely was a feminist. She had VERY strong opinions on women's rights. But she didn't just speak out and speak up about women. She also was a voice for the poor and working class. She saw a lot of injustice and wanted to change the world.

Vera Brittain loved to be a lecturer or guest-lecturer. She had a LOT to say, and wanted to be HEARD wherever she went. This wasn't always the case. She was unhappy with certain groups--or clubs--that didn't value women's opinions and treat women as intellectual equals.

Also of interest perhaps, Brittain shares her experiences as a writer--her journey to publication and her thoughts on the literary world.

The very last chapter is a relief--after spending so many chapters distancing herself from humanity by focusing on POLITICS and WORLD AFFAIRS--focuses instead on her deep friendships and ultimate marriage. She struggled a lot with the idea of marriage. Can she marry and still be a feminist? Can she marry even though she has every intention of staying a career woman? Can she marry even though children are the very last thing (almost) on her mind? She spent so long speaking out against marriage and traditional roles for women, that she is almost ashamed and embarrassed that she fell in love.

My thoughts: It was REALLY long. Overall, I thought it was slightly uneven. It was at times quite fascinating and compelling, but, then at times it was also quite sluggish and boring. There would be pages that definitely kept me reading and kept me caring. I will say that the movie did a great job condensing the book and capturing the spirit of it. Not that the movie is 100% faithful to the book. (No movie is).

Quotes:
There is still, I think, not enough recognition by teachers of the fact that the desire to think--which is fundamentally a moral problem--but be induced before the power is developed. Most people, whether men or women, wish above all else to be comfortable, and thought is a pre-eminently uncomfortable process; it brings to the individual far more suffering than happiness in a semi-civilized world which still goes to war, still encourages the production of unwanted C3 children by exhausted mothers, and still compels married partners who hate one another to live together in the name of morality. (40)
I am inclined to believe that provincial dances are responsible for more misery than any other commonplace experience. (51)
Most of us have to be self-righteous before we can be righteous. (56)
How curious it seems that letters are so much less vulnerable than their writers! (124)
Even my work-driven uncle at the bank wrote a long letter, enclosing a fragment of philosophy which had recently come to England from the French trenches: "When you are a soldier you are one of two things, either at the front or behind the lines. If you are behind the lines you need not worry. If you are at the front you are one of two things. You are either in a danger zone or in a zone which is not dangerous. If you are in a zone which is not dangerous you need not worry. If you are in a danger zone, you are one of two things; either you are wounded or you are not. If you are not wounded you need not worry. If you are wounded you are one of two things, either seriously wounded or slightly wounded. If you are slightly wounded you need not worry. If you are seriously wounded one of two things is certain--either you get well or you die. If you get well you needn't worry. If you die you cannot worry, so there is no need to worry about anything at all." (306)
It seems to me that the War will make a big division of 'before' and 'after' in the history of the world. (317)


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Monopolists

The Monopolists. Mary Pilon. 2015. Bloomsbury. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: One day during the depths of the Great Depression, an unemployed salesman named Charles Darrow retreated to his basement.

Premise/plot: Love Monopoly? Hate Monopoly? Mary Pilon's The Monopolists is a fascinating read to be sure. Who invented Monopoly? Who did NOT invent Monopoly? Why does it matter?

The Monopolist tells the story of the woman who invented the game, a game with two very different sets of rules. She didn't call her game 'monopoly' but 'The Landlord's Game.' The general game board concept and rules of play were hers. This was in 1904. In her community, it became quite popular, even an obsession of sorts. So much so that it spread across the nation as one person--or one couple--would teach another and another and another and another. People would create their own homemade game boards. The rules were taught but not written down. For decades, people were playing this game, loving this game. It wasn't a game you could buy at the store, though. 'The Landlord's Game' wasn't the only real-estate game that predates Parker Brothers' Monopoly. The game Finance also did. It also being offspring of Lizzie Magie's original game. Though I think perhaps by that time, it had just one set of rules. Charles Darrow, the man whose name would be associated with the game MONOPOLY, was taught the game by friends. He later claimed he invented the game. The couple who taught Darrow spent a lot of time in Atlantic City with the Quakers who LOVED the game and changed their own game boards to reflect their lives. These place names would stay with the game and be the names that we come to associate with Monopoly. The rules, the layout of the game board, the place names, all were essentially handed to Darrow ready-made.

Most of this book focuses on a lawsuit in the 1970s and early 1980s. Parker Brothers was trying to stop one man--Ralph Anspach--from selling his own game, a game called ANTI-MONOPOLY. Anspach was an economics professor, I believe. It would take a lot of time, effort, stamina, and courage to stay in the fight.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one. I enjoyed it even more than I thought I would. I don't love playing Monopoly, but, I found the game-playing culture of the twentieth century to be FASCINATING. There is something to be said for people spending time together around a table and actually talking and having fun doing the same thing. This was written in an engaging way. I'd definitely recommend it.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Alamo All Stars

Alamo All-Stars (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales #6) 2016. Abrams. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Three hundred families...land grand....Texas...almost home.

Premise/plot: Nathan Hale and his two pals (the hangman and the British Officer) are joined by Juan Seguin and his three executioners (firing squad, I believe?) to tell the story of the Alamo. It doesn't rush into the story of the Alamo though. Readers learn about Mexico declaring its independence from Spain, the setting up and deposing of several Mexican governments, the arrival, with permission, of American settlers (families) into Texas, the clashes and near-clashes of those settlers with the native tribes in Texas (all given names, I won't mention them all here) and with the Mexican government. Not all Mexican leaders welcomed the idea of settlers, some feared that the more settlers there were, the more likely they would rebel and claim Texas for their very own. Readers learn about Stephen F. Austin, Jim Bowie, Sam Houston, Davy Crockett, William Travis, etc. Some of the people we learn about center around the Alamo--lived, fought, and died at the Alamo--some not. The book explores why they were fighting, what they thought they were fighting for, and their strong personalities that certainly didn't always help in their decision making.

My thoughts: Though a Texan, Texas history has not been my strongest subject especially when I was in school! I found this book a lot more interesting than a textbook. It also helps knowing that I'll never be quizzed on the subject again. Quite the difference between reading for the story and reading to remember names, dates, and places.

There were a LOT of characters in this one. It was fun that our familiar gang was joined by four more. Juan Seguin and his executioners added something to the story. I liked how the hangman came to get along with them and wanted to have a sleepover.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Underground Abductor

The Underground Abductor. (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales #5) Nathan Hale. 2015. Abrams. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It is time to hang this spy! Are you sure? Can't we get one more story out of him first?

Premise/plot: Nathan Hale sets out to prove that America isn't perfectly perfect, and, that America has in fact "taken part in some truly horrible, despicable, abominable, atrocious, downright evil acts." He speaks, of course, of slavery. And in this graphic novel, he tells the story of Harriet Tubman (aka Araminta Ross). It's an intense story without a doubt. He speaks of her growing up in slavery, the abuses she faced, the challenges she overcame, her marrying a free man, her decision to run away, her decision to run back into slavery. For it became her mission to travel back and forth between North and South saving slaves--escorting slaves to safety, to Canada, in fact. All via the "underground railroad" of abolitionists. Some of this information I was familiar with, but, some was new to me. For example, I was not aware of her head injury perhaps leading to her narcolepsy. I had no idea of her visions either!

My thoughts: I am so glad I discovered this series. I really have enjoyed reading these books practically back to back. I would definitely recommend all of the books in the series. I hope it is a very LONG series.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, August 22, 2016

Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood

Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood. (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales #4) Nathan Hale. 2014. Abrams. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: This prologue is brought to you by E Pluribus Hangman.

Premise/plot: Nathan Hale shares with the British soldier (Provost) and hangman a story of when England and America will no longer be fighting each other but best friends and allies. This graphic novel is about World War I. It selectively, yet descriptively, tells of the war, year by year. It is action-packed, and yet one knows it's not exhaustive in its coverage.

Each country mentioned (both those fighting and those holding onto their neutral status) gets an animal assigned to it. So most of the illustrations are of animals at war with one another. Serbia is a Wolf. The Austro-Hungarian Empire is a Griffin. Russia is a Bear. Germany is an Eagle. France is a Gallic Rooster. Belgium is a Lion. England is a Bulldog (since Lion was already taken). America is a Bunny (since Eagle is already taken). Australia is a Kangaroo. Canada is a Beaver. New Zealand is a Kiwi. India is a Tiger. Ottoman Empire is an Otter. Japan is a Raccoon Dog. Those are the countries I can remember.

World War I is a complex subject, there is a lot to digest. There are hundreds--if not thousands--of books written by adults for adults seeking to explain the war and exhaustively cover every battle, every victory, every loss. So it is an ambitious project to condense the war into a middle grade graphic novel.
Nathan Hale: War is built and controlled by human hands--humans start it, humans stop it.
Hangman: Then WHY DIDN'T THEY STOP IT EARLIER--BEFORE IT KILLED EVERYBODY?! WHY DID THEY LET IT OUT IN THE FIRST PLACE!? THEY SHOULD LOCK IT UP AND NEVER EVER LET IT OUT!!!
Provost: Calm down, Hangman! There are times when war is a necessity. Tell him it is so, Captain Hale.
Nathan Hale: I'm not here to judge which wars were necessary and which wars weren't. I just tell the story. World War I is best summed up by those who experienced it.
All war is a symptom of man's failure as a thinking animal. ~ John Steinbeck
My thoughts: I really thought this book was well done. Yes, it's a bit text heavy. Yes, there is a LOT of information packed into it, perhaps too much information to actually absorb and digest. But it's well-crafted and well-organized. I'm impressed by how Nathan Hale (the author) was able to break down all the information and present it in such a concise way. War is never glorified, yes, the Provost and Hangman sometimes get carried away with BATTLES, but, by the end, Nathan Hale (the spy) has moved them both with his story.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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